How to manage techies: stress values, be authentic, make it emotional

05 October 2017 -

TechiesThe founder of one of the UK’s top social media agencies says that you need to give your people an ‘emotional stake’ in the future

Guest blogger Sharon Baker

Mention women in technology and most people will probably think of Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa May. Despite living through an exciting and fast moving digital revolution most organisations still only have a myopic view of what being a woman in technology really means.

Diversity in technology is up there with diversity in the boardroom. Historically both have been male dominated and campaigns pushing for increased diversity still appear to be more of a box ticking exercise rather than genuinely hiring a woman for the value she may bring to an organisation, regardless of gender.

Ultimately, whether an organisation has a healthy balance of men and women does not automatically demonstrate diversity of thought. Women at the helm can just as easily suffer from groupthink.

Diversity of thought and innovation needs to be embedded in an organisation’s culture.

Furthermore, if we really want to close the gender gap, we need to show the next generation just how diverse, creative and exciting the technology sector can be.

PwC recently published research that revealed only 3% of female students would consider a career in technology as their first choice. While this seems unbelievable in an age where young people are growing up in a digital environment, it turns out the most common explanation is that many still feel they don't have enough information about what a career in tech could involve. Others claim that the tech sector simply isn't creative enough.

When my co-founder and l launched our social tech organisation our primary focus was on clarifying and nailing down the core values we wanted to weave through the team.

One of those was ensuring that creativity and innovation remain at the forefront of everything we did. This was one of the fundamental building blocks of our organisation and, as a woman, I really wanted to drive these forward, and there is a good reason why.

For a start, just like those female students PwC researched, I did not set out to work in the tech sector. In fact, I started off with a degree in Politics and it was only during a temping assignment that I discovered a passion for all things tech.

This led me to take a Masters in Computer Science and it was during this period that I found that I was not only good at coding, unlike some of my male colleagues, I was also able to communicate it.

It was this realisation that made it vitally important for me to ensure that as I sourced new talent to work within the organisation I instilled the value of communication as well as innovation - and this had little to do with gender. Not all women are good at communicating and many men communicate very well.

The team has grown to 30 since then and the same core values are still very much in evidence.

There is no doubt that certain areas of IT, such as coding, attracts quite a specific type of person, very bright, very focused, analytical, often quite reclusive and frequently poor at communication.

From my perspective this was the axis from which I wanted to draw a team who has the right balance of IT skills, an innovative mindset and a focus on communicating, both internally and externally.

I firmly believe in running structured behavioural interviews to ensure all new employees are comfortable with this kind of culture. I also regularly remind myself to look beyond the gender of the person.

When running an organisation it is easy to fall into a rut and start to rely on assumptions, which can be just as damaging as groupthink!

What I have found is that there are many brilliant people out there who have exceptional tech skills, yet who struggle with a culture that encourages teamwork, actively sharing ideas and communicating easily with clients and colleagues alike.

As a startup on a budget we needed to find the most engaging ways to keep our exceptional team of employees happy and motivated. I am all too aware that the formula I have adopted for my organisation will rapidly gain traction and smart, talented, and ambitious people are very likely to be enticed away.

My belief is that by keeping the communication lines open, discussing the ways the team can progress and empowering them to take part in the running of the team, gives them a well deserved emotional stake in the company.

Certainly, larger organisations have the financial and branding clout to offer some amazing perks, but what they are less likely to offer is an authentic ‘piece of the action’, something we can do as a more nimble, and therefore flexible, smaller company.

So while we have monthly pizza lunches, regular breakfast meetings, support part-time working mums and offer a free personal trainer, we feel our unique cultural value has a lot to do with this.

As far as the business culture is concerned, innovation is the very cornerstone upon which we are founded. Having this as our mantra means we attract people who are excited by what digital can deliver in the future and who are constantly looking for new ways to stretch the boundaries.

You can’t schedule innovation or idea generation - what you can do however is set up unusual venues for people to get together to innovate. We also actively encourage anyone who wants to work through an idea to take time out and do so wherever they feel they can work best.

It is a well-known fact that organisations who favour gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their industry peers. However, I believe we may be addressing this issue from a skewed perspective.

Afterall, it is entirely reasonable that a company culture that fosters diversity is also the reason why a company performs better. The fact is, innovative, forward-thinking companies are more likely to be receptive to new ideas – and this could well include taking active steps to hire more female talent.

It’s not a stretch to think that these are also the sorts of businesses that achieve better results - certainly we feel we have struck a winning formula when it comes to talent and retention!

Sharon Baker is co-founder of Mighty Social, Europe’s fastest-growing social ad company

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